The idea that class
size and the use of peer tutoring makes a difference in academic achievement is supported by a $12 million study on the effects
of class size funded by the Tennessee legislature. Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio), followed students from
kindergarten in 1985-86 through third grade in 1988-89. It compared small classes (13-17 students per teacher), regular classes
(22-25 students per teacher), and regular-size classes with a teacher and full-time teacher's aide. All Project STAR classes
were given a set of standard achievement tests. Of the top-scoring 10% of all Project STAR classes, small classes represented
55% in kindergarten, and 78% by the third grade. Peer tutoring was a commonly employed learning strategy in the top-scoring
10% of Project STAR classes.
Reference: Pate-Bain, H., Achilles, C.M., Boyd-Zaharias, J., & Mckenna, B.
(1992). "Class size does make a difference [Project STAR in Tennessee]." Phi Beta Kappan, 74, 253-256.
& TURNOVER RATES MAKE A DIFFERENCE
"In an analysis of 900 Texas school districts,
Ronald Ferguson found that teachers’ expertise—as measured by scores on a licensing examination, masters degrees,
& experience—accounted for about 40% of the measured variance in students’ reading and mathematics achievement
at grades 1 through 11..." -Nov. 1997 "Doing What matters Most: Investing in Quality Teaching,"
by Linda Darling-Hammond, Prepared for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
As Steve Brandt
reported some time ago, the MPS research department did a study of how various factors correlated with standardized test scores.
There was a strong and consistent correlation between teacher turnover and student test scores: The higher the turnover, the
lower the test scores.
The district has long engaged in the practice of sending layoff notices
to lots of teachers who don't need to be laid off in order to save money on teacher payroll expenses. Many of the teachers
who get layoff notices find other employment. That creates openings for new hires and for currently employed teachers who
might otherwise get laid off. This practice results in insanely high turnover rates in schools with high concentrations of
low-seniority teachers who get the layoff notices.
When enrollment in Minneapolis district schools was on the rise
in the 1990s, the board was sending lay off notices to large numbers of teachers, but didn't plan to lay off any teachers.
Teachers who receive the lay off notices have the option of applying for and accepting a teaching position in another school
district without giving notice of their intent to terminate employment with the district at the end of the school year. The
teacher tenure act requires teachers to give notice by April 1 in order to take a job with another school district the following
In the spring of 2004 about one-fourth of tenure-track teachers in the Minneapolis Public Schools were
on probationary status, i.e., employed with the district for less than 3 full years. That is a pretty high proportion of teachers
status, especially considering the elimination of about 20% of tenure track teaching positions in the
previous 3 years due to falling enrollment and increased class sizes.
The district may not terminate the contract of
any teacher without cause. However, a teacher on probationary status may be fired for unsatisfactory job performance on flimsy
grounds and generally doesn't have the right to appeal the firing. Tenured teachers (more than 3 years of continuous employment)
have due process rights that make it difficult to fire them without good cause.
In the case of a teacher who gets a
lay off notice, the cause for termination is lack of available work. The district may not replace a laid off teacher, including
a probationary teacher, with a newly hired teacher unless the laid off teacher doesn't want to return to work for the district.
teacher who is called back to work should be able to return to the position they held when they received a lay off notice,
unless their position was eliminated, or if the teacher is being reassigned to preserve the employment of a tenured teacher
whose position has been eliminated and who is higher up on the seniority list than at least one other teacher who can be discharged
and replaced by a currently employed teacher.
A few year ago I discussed complaints about improper, forced transfers
with several teachers, but only one of those teachers filed a grievance (and won). The other teachers did not challenge the
reassignments due to fear of retaliation from the principal and higher-ups in the administration.